Women around the world are rising to demand that we take the path that we know is right for our communities and the Earth, one that will build a livable future for all generations. The time has come to listen to our calls to action and bring women’s innovation, stories, struggles, and solutions to the forefront of the climate crisis discussion and policy arena.
The fact is that women experience the adverse impacts of environmental degradation and climate disruption first and worse. They make up an estimated 20 million of the 26 million who have been displaced as a direct result of climate change – in other words, 80% of global climate refugees are women.
Studies have revealed that women are more susceptible than men to the harmful effects of pollution in the air, water, and soil – not to mention the dangerous and deeply personal effect of toxins on pregnant women and their developing babies.
Indigenous women, who rely on the natural world and primary resources for their survival as well as for their spiritual and cultural identity, find themselves directly threatened by mining projects, industrial agriculture, fossil fuel extraction, and mega-dams. In frontline communities, gendered and sexual violence is compounded onto other dire impacts perpetuated by the industries that bear down on their communities and homelands. Last year, when Cyclone Idai hit Southeast Africa, the UN reported that roughly 15,000 women and girls in Zimbabwe were at risk for gender-based violence following the storm.
In countries of the Global South, drought, flooding, and unpredictable temperatures put pressure on millions of women who, due to gender norms, hold primary responsibility for providing food, water, medicine, and firewood for their families.
When we analyze root causes, it is clear that women experience the climate crisis with disproportionate severity precisely because, on a global scale, their basic rights continue to be denied. Enforced gender inequality reduces women’s physical and economic mobility, voice, and opportunity in many places, making them more vulnerable to mounting environmental stresses.
As we examine patriarchal norms globally, we can see that violence against the Earth is directly linked to violence against women. For long-lasting change, it is essential that we recognize, understand, and transform the dominant social constructs that lie at the root of such gender inequality as well as the destruction of the Earth. We need to look at systemic change and challenge old paradigms of patriarchy, colonization, imperialism, and capitalism – which are based on power over women, Indigenous peoples, communities of color, and the land. It is long past time to end these old constructs and welcome a new worldview of gender equity and respect and harmony with Nature.
Connecting the dots between women and the Earth is vital not only because of the extreme climate impacts felt by women but also because of the unique insights and immensely powerful solutions that women bring to the table.
From the heart of the Amazon Basin to the forests of the Democratic Republic of Congo, from the Gulf Coast of the U.S. to the islands of the Pacific, women stand on the frontlines of global efforts to re-envision and heal our world. They are rising with fierce resolve, aware that current responses at the national and international level do not suffice given the scale of crisis we face.
In most regions, women are already central stakeholders in farming, water and resource management, and household consumption decisions, making them uniquely poised to chart a new social, economic, environmental, and political course. Women provide 60 to 80% of household food production in the Global South. Consequently, when we are talking about food security, food sovereignty, and ecological agriculture we are talking about women.
In a variety of fields, women worldwide are modeling small-scale solutions with potentially large impacts, and this is critical to creating a healthy future. Because climate change and environmental degradation are large-scale problems, solutions are often discussed in terms of sweeping measures and top-down initiatives. However, it is precisely these large-scale, top-down, profit-driven processes that have led to this crisis in the first place. As such, fully engaging women’s solutions to reclaim power at the local, community, and household levels is of paramount importance.
Women’s participation in decision-making has a direct impact on climate change policy and action. Research involving 130 countries demonstrated that countries with larger numbers of female parliamentary representation are more likely to ratify international environmental treaties.
The Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network (WECAN International) was founded in response to the knowledge that climate justice and gender justice are inseparable, and that women’s leadership is critical to climate solutions.
Every day we engage with women who reaffirm these convictions. Women saving seeds, women launching solar power projects, women planting trees to heal destroyed lands, women building resistance movements to keep fossil fuels in the ground and protect their territories.
Critically, we see dialogue opening between worldwide women with a variety of experiences, coming together across issues, regions, and cultures. Women coming together to cross-pollinate ideas and build understanding about differing burdens, responsibilities, and solutions, all of which are essential for worldwide efforts to restore the wellbeing of the planet.
As women come together worldwide to take indispensable action on the climate crisis and to protect the web of life itself, WECAN International is amplifying their leadership, stories, and struggles through our Women Speak Research Database, where thousands of stories highlight women’s crucial leadership in the climate movement. Together with many feminist allies, we are demonstrating our resistance to social and ecologic degradation, presenting our visions for the future, and showing the fierce strength and passion of global women working for a healthy, just world.
Note: Some portions of this blog were published with Open Democracy.